Guest Post: When You're "Too Productive" to be Sick

Today's guest post was written by someone I had the pleasure of meeting very recently. I love the way he describes invisible anxiety - it's not always shaking and hyperventilating. So often we look perfectly calm, but inside we're falling apart.

When you have high-functioning anxiety, the world is a battlefield that only you can see. You’re at war with yourself and the world around you, yet no one else notices. As someone with high-functioning anxiety, I’m constantly told that I can’t possibly be sick because I still function perfectly fine in the world. I have a job, I go to school, I even do some extracurricular activities. Sounds like a person who’s perfectly fine, right? Wrong. Think of my outside appearance as a mask that I put on to hide what’s underneath - what’s inside. The thoughts inside my head; constantly telling me that I’m a failure, that I’m not good enough. On the inside, I’m screaming. On the inside, I’m trying my absolute hardest to keep my head above the water. While on the outside, everything appears completely and totally calm. 

I was told all throughout high school that I was faking my illness. That I was just trying to get attention. That my grades and my physical health were too good for me to possibly have anxiety. I was told that me missing school for my mental health was unacceptable because there was, clearly, nothing wrong with me. I was told that my struggles weren’t real and that other people have it worse, therefor I didn’t matter. They all thought that because they couldn’t see my illness, that it wasn’t there. In reality, it was there. They just weren’t paying attention.

When you look at someone with high-functioning anxiety, you really have to pay attention in order to see that anything is wrong. Our anxiety creeps out in the subtle, little ways. Nail-biting, running my fingers through my hair, moving around constantly, dancing, foot tapping, anything to keep my mind busy. You can see it in the perfectionism of my life, in unanswered text messages and emails. As soon as we stop, the thoughts get louder. “Not good enough!” “Bad friend!” “Everyone hates you!” “They’re all just faking!” “Why would you say that?” “I’m letting everybody down.” “You’ll never be good enough!” Meanwhile, on the outside, all you see is a smile and calmness.

Having high-functioning anxiety is an everyday struggle. Trying to constantly remind yourself that the thoughts in your head are wrong. Trying to realize what you’re doing and trying to cope with the anxiety in other ways. Trying to find the difference between coping mechanisms and distraction mechanisms. Turning the never ending energy into productivity instead of disability. Trying to get the world to understand that you’re not faking. And trying to convince yourself that you’re not faking.

Elijah Greenwood, 2018


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